“Hidden Heretics: Jewish Doubt in the Digital Age” by Ayala Fader— Exploring the Outside World

Fader, Ayala. “Hidden Heretics: Jewish Doubt in the Digital Age”,  (Princeton Studies in Culture and Technology (27)), Princeton University Press, 2020.

Exploring the Outside World

Amos Lassen

In “Hidden Heretics”, writer Ayala Fader looks at Jewish men and women who secretly explore the outside world, in person and online, while, at the same time, remain in their ultra-Orthodox religious communities. It is certainly not new to question religious faith but when the result could be losing one’s family and way of life, it becomes quite dire. Here are incredibly interesting stories of married ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and women in twenty-first-century New York who lead “double lives” in order to protect those they love. Their stories are also heart-breakers. Even though they have stopped believing that God gave the Torah to Jews at Mount Sinai, these “hidden heretics” continue to live in their families and religious communities, even while breaking Jewish commandments and exploring forbidden secular worlds in person and online. Writer Fader draws on five years of fieldwork with those who live double lives and “the rabbis, life coaches, and religious therapists who minister to, advise, and sometimes excommunicate them”. She , investigates religious doubt and social change in the digital age.

There are ultra-Orthodox rabbis who see the Internet as more threatening than the Holocaust in that it provides new possibilities for religious uncertainty something that has been around since the beginning of religion. We see how digital media has become a lightning rod for contemporary struggles over authority and truth and become very aware of the stresses and strains that hidden heretics experience. These include the difficulties that their choices pose for their wives, husbands, children, and, sometimes, lovers. The people we meet here range from the religiously observant but open-minded on one end to atheists on the other, We look into universal quandaries of faith and skepticism, the ways we can be changed by digital media and family frictions that come about when a person transforms who they are and what they believe in radical ways. We read stories of conflicts between faith and self-fulfillment and look at the moral compromises and divided loyalties of those standing at crossroads that alter their lives.

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